Online suicide game prompts MOE advisory
With suicide-related content increasingly popular, parents and educators worry about possible impact on vulnerable kids
With youngsters increasingly consumed by the world of social media, parents and educators here are increasingly concerned about their mental well-being, especially with suicide-related content trending online.
One particular game and a Netflix series prompted the Education Ministry to issue advisories yesterday on their online publication Schoolbag.sg.
One advisory read: "You may have heard of the Blue Whale game and 13 Reasons Why, or them trending on your social media feed.
"Such content have been circulating and may negatively influence our children to view suicide as a viable way to deal with their problems, or even romanticise or glamourise the act of suicide."
Out of Russia, the Blue Whale suicide game gets players to inflict harm on themselves.
Players join by posting on a social media platform using certain hashtags.
After vetting by the "curators" of the game, players are asked to complete 50 daily tasks, like cutting themselves.
For the final 10 days, the player needs to wake up at a specified early-morning hour, listen to music and contemplate death.
The final challenge at the end of the game is to commit suicide.
In Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, high school student Hannah Baker kills herself in despair, leaving audiotapes for those she holds responsible - among them, her rapist, fickle friends and bullies.
Student Laurel Tan, 14, who watched the series, admitted the show had given her ideas on how to take her own life.
With suicides among 10- to 19-year-olds at a 15-year high, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) is concerned about this "new wave of negative media influence concerning suicide".
"Several clients over the 24-hour hotline and e-mail befriending service have mentioned that they have heard of the show, the game, or both," SOS' executive director Christine Wong told The New Paper.
Earlier this year, inter-agency taskforce NurtureSG, which comes under the auspices of the ministries of Health and Education, released a slew of recommendations to address mental health issues like suicide.
This includes setting up a multi-agency research workgroup to study suicides and suicidal and self-harming behaviour among children and individuals up to 35 years old.
Touch Family Services manager Chong Ee Jay says his phone has been buzzing with worried texts from parents and educators who have read resurfaced articles linking the Blue Whale game to suicides.
Educators say they have heard students talking about the game in school and parents are concerned that their kids could be easily manipulated by it.
Mr Chong told TNP: "I believe most kids here in general do have the maturity to discern negative influence. I'm concerned about the emotionally- or socially-marginalised group. They may not be in the best state of mind, and can easily fall prey to what the mainstream may perceive as a silly game."
St Joseph's Institution (SJI) International has expressed its concern over 13 Reasons Why in a recent advisory.
School principal Bradley Roberts said in a letter to parents: "Although this mini-series attempts to address many themes that can lead to important conversations with students, many believe that aspects of the mini-series go against the recommendations of mental health professionals and suicide prevention models."
He said the school is planning talk sessions with students about the series and the issues involved to "ensure that our students know how to support each other and whether they can get support for themselves or their friends".
- Samaritans of Singapore (24-hour hotline) 1800-221-4444
- Tinkle Friend 1800-274-4788
- Singapore Association for Mental Health 1800-283-7019
- Care Corner Counselling Centre (in Mandarin) 1800-353-5800
- Mental Health Helpline 6389-2222
- Aware Helpline 1800-774-5935
Engage kids and be on alert for harmful online content
Some challenges, like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, are fun and mostly harmless.
But the Blue Whale online game is life threatening when taken to the extreme, said Touch Family Services manager Chong Ee Jay.
"We shouldn't trivialise it. Any form of this social media trend can somehow take a life of its own and develop rapidly... I find that the conversational and empathetic approach to engage kids in conversation from a third party point of view can help," he told TNP.
"It's an open door opportunity to talk about many other things like mental health, general social media usage, or even to discuss the motivation behind playing such games."
Executive director of Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) Christine Wong said the best way to combat such social media trends is for the community to be on the alert for negative content online, teach youngsters to avoid it, and be attentive to their loved ones.
"If you notice someone exhibiting behaviour or posting content online which you find uncharacteristic of them, you may want to approach them to find out how they are coping and show concern in a non-judgmental manner," she said.
As for suicide-themed shows like 13 Reasons Why, SOS advises adolescents against watching it because the "insensitive depiction of suicide" could give rise to copy-cat cases and a misconstrued perception of those at risk of suicide.
For parents whose kids have watched the series, Ms Wong suggested the family come together to discuss any issues or concerns of the children, if they are open to it, without judgment, criticism, or punishment.
"Children and teenagers may not feel comfortable talking to their parents about their private lives and experiences. Parents can let them know that there are other professionals they can talk to if they require," she added.